Emerging from the Anthology Workshop: cutting-edge short fiction

Oh, boy. And here I’d thought I’ve been taking risks in my writing, just because I write about gay dudes, or superpowers, or political scenarios! There’s nothing like being in the room with 40 other writers at the Anthology Workshop held on the Oregon coast by Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch, and listening to a panel of 6 judges critique every single story we had written for them.

Every single one. And they were wonderful, or at least had good bones.

I’ve learned a lot writing my six stories (one a week, on an assigned theme) – this is how writer’s write. Somebody gives you a prompt, you get an idea and discard it, along with the other obvious story ideas. Those are all low-hanging fruit, and the magazines won’t publish several stories that have the same theme, or the same emotional take-away. (Oh, and no rewrites or beta-readers allowed. They wanted it raw, but spell-checked. No pressure…)

I’ve learned a lot reading the oeuvre of everybody else’s stories (all 1.1 million words of it). That’s how editor’s read, and the stories got comments ranging from “Didn’t finish it, something kicked me out,” to “Finished, but it’s not a short story, now go finish the novel,” to “I enjoyed this short story and want to buy it for my magazine, and this is why.” Plus everything in-between. Not finishing stories is okay. No guilt. There is no way a sensible person can read every word of every story, especially when they are scanning for what would work for their publication. Therefore, my guilt was assuaged, because I had not finished reading everything, either.

I’ve learned that many a story is better off if you trim the beginning (where the writer is warming up,) the end (where they don’t know where to stop,) or both. We saw cases of amazing story rescues where somebody looked at the structure and said, “I’ll buy this story if you let me cut the last 900 words – you wrote past your ending.” Now I’m so glad I know what to look for!

Aside from learning a lot about story structure and editorial taste, we had lunches with the editors, got to talk business and ask questions, and took walks on the beach between periods of rain. All that was very helpful to my future projects. We got up early and we stayed up late. We talked shop and planned upcoming adventures, traded information freely and generously, and consumed copious amounts of coffee. My eyes have been pried open by the force of some of these stories, and by the fuck-all attitude some writers take as they forge ahead with courage and follow their muse. I’m inspired, and also humbled that I’ve been invited into their company. This padawan has some catching up to do.

From the sales end, one of my stories got picked up for the Pulphouse Magazine, which is getting published again after a 20-year hiatus. Another one was on the “maybe” list for Fiction River, but didn’t make the cut due to length. You’ll get to read these tales eventually, either in other magazines, or published as stand-alones. My newsletter subscribers will get a special treat next week.

Good things are coming ahead! Hold on tight for the ride.

 

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